Is there an agreed standard for patronyms?

+12 votes

I have been working on both Swedish and Norwegian ancestry and have been trying to determine if there are any official guidelines on how we should be entering patronyms. I can see there are many discussion topics on G2G about them, but I can't tell if the answers in there are agreed upon policy or just suggestions, because there seem to be multiple different approaches. I was hoping to find clear guidelines in the Style Guide, but the page here has some references and links to discussions, but unfortunately nothing as clear as "put XXX in first name, YYY in LNAB, ZZZ in other name fields, etc." Some suggest using the patronym in the first name field, others say last name (and put farm name as current last name). Kitty's blog gets referenced regularly which references this link, so I have been following the advice as follows (copied from the link above), but I continually question if I am doing the "right" thing.

  • "First Name" field: All given names and the patronymic
  • "Last Name" field: Farm name at birth, or the earliest one you know - the fact that you do not know the farm name does not mean there is no farm name - search sources to find out
  • Alternative Names: All later farm names, with a description and/or timeline/event for when/why etc 

So is there an official policy or at least strong recommendation? I'd like to continue to work through these relatives, but would like to have a little more confidence that I am doing it properly before going too far. Or perhaps this is just an area that is going through continued discussion and there isn't anything that prescriptive at this point and once it is decided there will be rework involved to get them to standard? Is using the approach I bulleted above ok or should I be doing something different?


Thank you!




in Policy and Style by Lisa Stensland G2G1 (1.7k points)
retagged by Maggie N.

9 Answers

+9 votes
Best answer

For the actual cases, particularly in the transition period from, say, 1820 to 1920, there is nothing for it but going to the sources. Well, we always need to go to the sources for names, of course - but this was when a lot of people in Sweden went through name changes, by going to town or becoming industrial workers and adopting a family name - all the Lindströms and Lundgrens. Or by freezing their patronymic into a surname used by both parents and children without gendered forms. Actually, in Sweden few families took their new surname straight off their home farm or hamlet, although many took a name that associated to their place of origin - like my own Ekeblad, adopted by three brothers who left the village of Eklanda.

Anyway, the problem is not the names or the name history per se, but how badly the names fit into the WikiTree boxes.

by Eva Ekeblad G2G6 Pilot (393k points)
selected by Lisa Stensland
I think you hit the nail on the head! :) The issue isn't the names, it is how badly the names fit into the WikiTree boxes - so I suppose my question is if there is a way that while it might not be perfect but gives the "least bad" result in terms of searchability and matching? Or should we be lobbying for additional fields?

As you have made significant contributions to this site, what is the convention that you use for all of the variations of Swedish name that you have come across?

Thanks so much!

All the variations! That would take some writing!!

This discussion has me thinking there should be a project for Scandinavian naming practices. I think it would be a good idea to collect them in one project, to be able to compare, and point out similarities and differences.

But that is slow work, of course - and not a solution to the issue of fields.

I do have some families of smiths and charcoal makers that used a family name since way back, and also patronyms. A bit similar to the Norwegian patronymic+farm nam, although the family name followed them wherever they lived. The Brodin family is one example. These were among the first that I entered to WikiTree, and I have used the middle name field for the patronymic - that way it looks right, and the error report doesn't complain about multiple names in the first name field ;-)

This family belonged to my little experiment importing a GEDCOM, so many of them arrived with the patronymic+the family name as LNAB. Which is a very bad solution - it ruins the matching for a line where the family name is actually a useful tool. I think I have traced all of them and changed them.

I agree - I think a project may be needed or a project for each country to establish the recommended guidelines for which parts of the names should go in which fields. As a new contributor, I would benefit if something like that existed because I quickly discovered how difficult it is to find matches. In addition, it was hard to have confidence that I was entering things in the right places because the form itself doesn't provide guidance about what should go where when there are nuances like farm names and soldier names, etc. I think the only thing I am pretty sure I did right was put the first name in the first name field :)

Thank you for all your input on this topic - I have learned a lot about Swedish naming just by asking the question!
+7 votes
Lisa, you raise an important question, and I am afraid we northeners will have to discuss first, what we want to achieve. Personally, I would like to have a separate field for patronym/matronym in all genealogy programs and online registers; most of the world obviously does not see the need.

House names: may be a good idea for the family who owns the farm, but what about migrant farm workers?

In Finland there has been a long going discussion about the language used in church records. The clergy were mostly using Swedish forms of names until latter part of 19th century, also for Finnish-speaking families, so the names in the register were never used in everyday life. Many genealogists will want to use the Swedish form, because that can be found in the now digitized communion books; I would rather use the Finnish, true name, and copy the Swedish format into the "other names" list. There is no standard solution.
by Olli Lahtinen G2G1 (1.7k points)
I have some Forest Finns among my ancestors in Bergslagen. I have also tried to help a little bit with Forest Finns who were among the immigrants to New Sweden, that I came across in the course of data doctoring Swedish women who have -son surnames at a time when they should have been -dotter. This is something I am absolutely not an expert in, but it made me read up a little; there's some interesting stuff to be found on the Net. One publication that looked quite solidly academic told me that in eastern Finland family names were in use very early (which is relevant because that is where most Forest Finns came from). Those family names were ether nature-based or based on the name of a founding father.
Eva, you probably refer to this article: (in Swedish with English abstract) .

Coming back to the idea of dedicating a separate field for patronyms/matronyms; this would be useful also for e.g. Russian researchers. They have used both patronyms and family names, 'Vladimir Iljitsh Uljanov' - 'Josef Vissarionovitsh Stalin' - to name just a couple. One seldom meets a Russian without getting to know his/her patronym as well, and that patronym should be remembered and used, if the person is an acquaintance, rather than the family name.
Thanks for the ref.


But they have a couple of articles by Sirkka Paikkala in their list of references.
+6 votes
I don't think there is an easy answer for this Lisa.

First, the naming conventions differed a lot depending on country and county, sometimes even on parish level.

I believe that using the farm name as a last name was mostly common in Norway and the more northern parts of Sweden. I never put farm names in name fields for my relatives. Sure, farm names could be used to separate one Lars Larsson from all the others in a parish but what about when they moved?

Why put patronym in the first name field? I have seen a lot of that here on Wikitree and I don't get it. For me that is a last name. My first name is Lena and my last name is Svensson.
by Lena Svensson G2G6 Mach 4 (49.5k points)
Lena you would use Svensson as your last name because today that is an inherited surname.  Using a farm name ( I have mostly Norske ancestors so I have lots of farm names) is closer to an inherited surname than the patronymic for people from back in the 1800's.  I have Danish ancestors who had Olesen as an inherited surname back in the 1850ish period.

All we are discussing is how to enter the patronymic and farm name when we have both and neither one of them is "really" a name at all.
Cliff, the way I read Lisa's questions patronymics was the main issue. As not only I wrote, the farm names are mostly in Norway and some places in Sweden, like Dalarna. There are some on Gotland, in a way, but not many that I have come across. Most Swedish people did not inherit a surname until the late 1800's, that was for the nobility from around 1500 and onwards (before that it was just part of their shield/crest), ministers and some burgeois families. I have a Westberg from the 1600's on Gotland and Winter even further back. Then there were the German immigrants who came to the island who cept their surnames and did not use patronymics.

So basically, with Swedes you have to know the social status of the person and the history of the naming conventions before 1900 when you name people who lived then, as well as local traditions.
This discussion highlights most of all that the Scandinavian countries each have their own history of naming practices.

I'm quite OK with Norwegians doing it the Norwegian way.
I think this is a really interesting point and I wonder how this plays out in reality as far as people entering their data on the site. I have learned (thanks to this discussion!) that I really don't know what naming conventions were in place at what time - nor do I really know how social status impacts what they would have been called at that time. Typically, I am just entering what I see on the birth record (or other records) based on what information is there, and trying to shoehorn them into the fields we have to work with.

Do you have a particular convention that you are following for Swedish names?

One thing that I really like about WikiTree is the possibility to create free-space pages - and one thing that free-space pages can be used for is to write about naming conventions, linking to actual examples. Of course this s slow work, you have to have reasonably good examples of what you wish to show. I have been sort of collecting the last -dotters, because I'm data doctoring Swedish women who have been given a -sson name at a time when they should have been -dotter. I work mostly with women born before 1800, so most could be corrected by principle (I try to give them a source nevertheless). But even so I became interested in when the change took place from gendered patronymics to -sson surnames. I was not surprised to find that it was different in different parts of the country ;-)

And merchants and craftsmen in the small towns were the earliest ones. I have a few examples that I'm plannning to write about, like the Adamsson family of hat makers, starting with Adam Melchior Pettersson (1702-177), but after him using Adamsson as a family name, same for men and women and over several generations.

+8 votes

As Lena has already said, farm names aren't all that common in Sweden. I don't know enough about the far north, but I have a substantial branch of my ancestry in Rättvik, Dalarna - and in Dalarna and the area around most people DID have farm names, placed before their given name, so their names were of the form Farmname Givenname Patronymic. Which fits very badly into the wikitree scheme. I have put these farmnames together with the given name in the firstname field to make it LOOK right. I don't know how correct this is - but when I come across profiles of people from Dalarna in the 1700s or early 1800s where the farm name has been placed as a Last Name I shudder. Because I know how hard these people fought against the bureaucracy in the late 1800s and the early 1900s when they were pressed to take their farm names as Last Names.

But most Swedish peasants and crofters ony used the name they had been christened with and their patronymic, so that is no problem with the fields.

by Eva Ekeblad G2G6 Pilot (393k points)
+6 votes

Thank you all for the insightful responses. I learned a lot just from your answers - like I didn't realize that different areas of Sweden may or may not use farm names, some at the beginning of the name and others at the end. It is certainly a challenging issue to figure out a way to standardize as you want to balance the importance of capturing the names the way they did at the time with the ease of being able to search for people (which we tend to do using modern naming conventions).

I really like the effort that was started by Magnus Sälgö here: It would be great if there was such a page for each country that had unique name guidelines and if it could evolve to having a standard for that country that could be used. Perhaps something like "if you have a first name, patronym, and farm name, enter it accordingly into the following fields. if you only have a first name and patronymic, enter it like this...". I realize that it gets complicated as different counties or parishes may have different conventions (and those conventions changed over time), but if we could establish a convention the country level, it would seem to be a great start into getting some consistency and hopefully with that improved searchability, matching, and error detection.

So - all that said - do you have a recommendation that I should follow for Norwegian and Swedish ancestors (understanding that the recommendations may not be the same for each country)? Typically I have a first name, patronym, and in some cases farm name. Should the patronym go in the first name, middle name, or LNAB? Should the farm name go in LNAB if I have it or "current last name" or "other last name"?

Thank you again for the perspective and thanks in advance for any suggestions!




by Lisa Stensland G2G1 (1.7k points)
I think we need input from the Norwegians.
I was very interested when reading all that has been said about Norwegian naming rules.  My birth last name is Anderson and when I first started my trek into genealogy, I gave up at first on this, my father's line.  Due to the fact that this is the most common Scandinavian surname in America.  A few years later, I managed to find a distant cousin who had a lot of information.  I then learned about the Norwegian naming rules.  However, I didn't know about the farm names.  Through dna testing I managed to find another distant cousin in Norway who had more information.  Although I was very lucky in filling out my family tree a bit more, I shudder when I think of all of the other people trying to find out their Scandinavian lines.  My personal thoughts in entering the names into Wiki Tree is to make it easier for any of those others doing research.  I think we should use patronymics when entering data for individuals who would be using them prior to 1920 as the last name at birth and if changed to farm name or new name (after 1920 or entering the US) use that as the current last name.  I like this because if someone is trying to find someone either of those names will pop up (if I am understanding this right).  And then they can make a statement in Biography as to the naming and can mention the farm name.  The only other suggestion would be to add another line to entering another name such as farm name.  I think it is important to be as precise as we can, but then it is important to be user friendly for our new members of the tree.
+5 votes

This is an excerpt from a document produced by Ingela Martenius. Read the whole document (and others) at:

Farm names
In some parts of the country using the farm name has been a very common
practice. The reason is that neither the first name nor the patronymic was
enough to distinguish a person. A parish could easily have some ten people
with identical names. This was really the same problem as the armed forces
had; “everybody” was called “Anders Persson” (see above). In civilian life the
problem was however often solved by adding the name of the farm. If “Anders
Persson” came from the farm “Pers” he was called “Pers Anders Persson” (or
occasionally “Anders Pers Persson”). The farm name included everybody at
the farm, also a man who took over his wife’s parents’ farm – he had to drop
his old farm name and use the new one; this was called “taking the chemise
Use of the farm name has also been common abroad; a close example is
Norway where it has been used until recently.
In some parts of Sweden – mainly in Dalarna – people have been very chary
of divesting themselves of their farm names. However, the legislation took no
notice until 1982 when the question was brought up in connection with the
new Name Law. It was then decided that farm names can be used provided:
1. it is used ”by” the first name; i.e. “Pers Anders Persson” and “Anders Pers
Persson” are both in order, but “Anders Persson Pers” is not. In this last
case “Pers” is regarded as a family name, not a farm name.
2. there is a “real” connection to the name, and the name is still in actual use
(however, the farm need not be in operation).


by Gerry Hagberg G2G6 Mach 1 (15.3k points)

Yes, Martenius is very good.

When I think of it, it is very common in the old church records and taxation records that people are designated with reference to their farm or hamlet - "Knut i Flena" or "Lasse i Vreten" - but I don't think this was ever considered a name in other parts than Dalarna. You also get references to the profession, like "Erik Skomakare", "Mats Larsson Hammarsmed" or "Nils Körare". Unlike the English Smiths and Coopers these never seem to have been transformed into family names.

However, the legislation took no
notice until 1982 when the question was brought up in connection with the
new Name Law. It was then decided that farm names can be used provided:
1. it is used ”by” the first name; i.e. “Pers Anders Persson” and “Anders Pers
Persson” are both in order, but “Anders Persson Pers” is not. In this last
case “Pers” is regarded as a family name, not a farm name.

Yes. Important to note that this was in 1982, and so concerns the modern usage. I think many farm names in Dalarna also were converted to family names without a patronymic. Just "Gunnar Snis" or "Britta Gjers".

Eva Ekeblad wrote:

When I think of it, it is very common in the old church records and taxation records that people are designated with reference to their farm or hamlet - "Knut i Flena" or "Lasse i Vreten" - but I don't think this was ever considered a name in other parts than Dalarna.

I don't think that people thought of farm names as part of their personal names here in Norway either. It was mostly a form of identification for those who kept records, in order to keep one Ole Olsen from the other ones. But, they would often enough be called up by their farm name by the pastor or other persons of authority, and probably learned to identify with it officially, like we do with our person ID numbers.

Farm names didn't morph into surnames until the last part of the 19th century. It was mainly two segments of the population who took farm names as real surnames.

The first group consisted of children of rather affluent farmers, moved to town, and then got some education. Many of those ended up as teachers or white-collar workers, and used their farm names to stand out from the crowd, sometimes with outlandish spellings. On the other hand, children of the lower class in the countryside who went to town, kept their patronyms which eventually morphed into surnames, like my father's father's father Hans Christensen, son of Christen Knudsen.

The other group were of course those who emigrated and had to follow the customs where they settled. Many stuck to their patronyms in the beginning, but were forced to take another name when there were too many Andersens and Olsens around. So they usually took the farm name from back home. I have a strong feeling that they often actually resisted using the farm name; they may have felt it a bit too pretentious.

I've frequently seen farm names used as cognomens even in the early 18th century by town dwellers who brought the name with them from home, but it was almost never passed on to the next generation, and therefore doesn't qualify as a proper surname.

+7 votes

I agree with the Arvegods page showing how much more similar farm names are to surnames than patronymics are.

Entering patronyms as last names will generate countless meaningless "surname lists"

I will be entering my Norwegian ancestors as per Lisa's post and the page above until somebody decides we should do things differently.  The main point of this discussion is not what is "right" because there is no right and people have been discussing this for decades.  What's important is that we all do this "slightly wrong" in the same way. :-)

by Cliff Lien G2G2 (2.1k points)

Entering patronyms as last names will generate countless meaningless "surname lists"

That is true. With an ancestry mostly consisting of Swedish peasntry you get used to it. There is really no genealogy website that caters to the patronymic form of continuity.

This is why the Swedish parish categories are so useful.

This is the main concern that I have - that the searching and matching become unwieldy because there are just so many "Per Perssons". But  sometimes that is all there is. Thank you for pointing out the Swedish parish categories - I didn't know about that and will definitely look at incorporating them!

For the Per Perssons, Lars Anderssons and Anders Larssons of the patronymic era there is just nothing to do but struggle on ;-)

Well, more seriously spoken: the abundance of unrelated persons with the same name from all over Sweden makes correct locations (including the name of the parish) of utmost importance for checking if a match is a match or not. Thinking here of old GEDCOMs where peasant families have been cobbled together from pieces belonging in widely different parts of the country.

But, even if they're in the same parish, one really should check the birth records. I once, as a beginner, made the mistake of picking the wrong Anna Cajsa Persdotter in the birth book, and researching a few generations back before I realized that there was one more Anna Cajsa Persdotter born in the same parish the same year, and she was my ancestress.

All valid points, Eva and Lisa.  Believe me I know all about the ins and outs of genealogy with patronyms and farm names and since we are talking about Sweden part of the time we could throw in soldier names.

But this discussion goes on for decades because there is no right answer.  My Grandfather, Nils Gundersen Lien, only had one name, Nils. Gunder is his father's name, not his.  Lien is his farm's name not his.

But forget that...

What blanks am I entering those "not names" in?  I don't care how we do it as long as we all do it the same way.  I'm not changing how I do it in my own tree but if we all pick our own way of doing it in this WikiTree we make a mess.

It seems obvious that if I have no farm name to enter I will enter the patronym as a last name.  If I have both patronym and farm I will enter the patronym with the first name and the farm name at birth as the last name. A subsequent farm name can go in Last Name Now.

I'm doing that because it's the only documented way I can see published in these discussions on G2G which have been happening for quite a while.
Yes, soldier's names are interesting. I often come across them entered as last Names at Birth - which of course they are not,  these guys were not born soldiers. But I just shrug my shoulders and leave them as they are.

For my own I do hope I have been consistently obedient to the LNAB policy and entered the future soldiers by their patronymic at birth. The soldier's name goes in the Current Name box. Not sure what that does to matches. Works in a search.
+3 votes

As I see it the problem is with WikiTree basing its data base on LNAB. I agree with Cliff in that the given name to someone was Gunnar and sometimes there were other given names like Anna Lisa Aurora. These go into the top part of the profile. At no time should a patronymic or farm name be included in this information.

We should make the best possible determination of a LNAB, what little Gunnar would be referred as in the region he lived. This might be difficult fo example if he lived in Finland it might be Finnish or maybe Swedish.  The official record would probably be in Swedish because it was kept by the church.  Unless I have other information, I would put the recorded Swedish name as the LNAB.

By using a patronymic as a LNAB the excellent Scandinavian church records allow tracing families back to birth parishes. Though I have encountered brickwalls when a man takes a job in a parish which comes with its own last name.

In my own family Johan lived with his wife and his wife's sister. He had children with both, though the ones with his sister-in-law were listed as illegitimate. For those which survived childhood, thew took the last name of Jansson. I assigned them the LNAB of Helenasson. The question is certainly interesting.

by Norm Lindquist G2G6 Mach 5 (53.7k points)

My maternal ancestors are all from Norway, so I've wrestled with Norwegian naming practices since beginning genealogical work. The clearest, most helpful article that I've found on this is John Føllesdal's "Norwegian Naming Practices" <>.  To oversimplify, he notes that, before about 1900, educated upper class families (clergy, military, high-ranking civil servants) often used hereditary surnames, as did people living in cities, and these surnames were often old names, many being foreign in origin.  The majority of Norwegians in the mid-1800's and earlier, however, lived on farms in rural areas (I've seen estimates ranging from 70% to 95%).  They had first and sometimes middle names, but not surnames.  Patronyms identified the father, but were not hereditary surnames - until about 1900 when they began to be "fixed" from generation to generation (fixed family names were not required until 1923).  Farm names helped distinguish persons, but they were locations (where they lived or were born), not surnames (e.g., Ole, son of Even, at the Sandnes farm would be Ole Evensen Sandnes).  Women similarly kept their patronymic name, even after marriage, and some were also referred to by the farm they were born on.  If you moved to another farm, you might take the new farm's name (but this wasn't always the case - the owners might keep their original name).  However, in searching for records, unless it's a farm-based search (e.g., census searches can be by farm or person), the farm name may or may not be included.     

     Somewhat related to this is the issue of naming the place - many counties and towns changed names, and the boundaries changed as well.  E.g., my grandfather's farm is now in Oppland, which was formerly "Christian's amt", in Vestre Toten, formerly Ostre Toten, and before that just Toten.  The farm name was unchanged.  So should we be using the names at the time of the event, which would require looking up the times of the name changes, or the current name?  (the same issue affects many U.S. locations as well).  

+2 votes

So basically as I understand it, for an ancestor who only has a first name and a patronym enter the patronym as the LNAB.

But if they have a family name as well then enter the patronym as the middle name and the family name as the LNAB.  With any variation on the family name in the Other Last Names field.  

Here is an example from my family tree,  Sara Sophia Eliasdotter Standar aka Sandar .

I have entered her first and middle names into the first name field, Sara Sophia.  Then her patronym Eliasdotter into the middle names field and then lastly her family name of Standar as her LNAB.  But there is also a variational spelling as Sandar which I entered into the other last names field.  

Does this seem like the right way to enter all the names?

by Erik Granstrom G2G6 Mach 2 (27.3k points)

Since Standar looks like a soldier name (= standard = a flag, you know) I wanted to know first if it was a soldier name and second if she really used it, because it is generally assumed that family didn't - but the later in time, the more usual it becomes that children DO use their father's soldier name.

I quickly looked up her birth and death in Arkiv Digital, and yes, she was born to soldaten Elias Standar och dess hustru Anna Stina Michelsdotter. And yes, she is in the death book as Sara Sofia Standar B(onden) Fredrik Granbergs hu(stru) i Svensbyn.

Birth: Piteå landsförsamling CI:8 (1816-1825) Bild 47 / sid 81 (AID: v138648.b47.s81, NAD: SE/HLA/1010154)
Death: Piteå landsförsamling F:4 (1877-1886) Bild 159 (AID: v138673.b159, NAD: SE/HLA/1010154)

The names are in the fields where I would put them in these circumstances. Well, I wonder if she ever used Eliasdotter. And I strongly doubt the Sandar spelling - looks to me as somebody has been misreading it somewhere where it was written with a bad handwriting. Can you point me to where it's from?

Hello Eva,

Thanks for checking it out.  The "Sandar" spelling is from her Geni profile which has a source from MyHeritage. 

I often see slight differences in spellings between different genealogy websites.   

For example for the place name, Porsnäs (near Piteå), sometimes I see that written as Portsnas, with that extra T added in.  I assume it's really Porsnäs.

Also another one is the classic Per Persson vs Pehr Pehrsson.  That one is more of a spelling variation then a misspelling.  


Ah, well. That MyHeritage tree also has back-projected her father's name as Elias Eliadotter. Doesn't look very trustworthy to me ;-)

Pehr Pehrsson is of course a classical example of a spelling variation. Portsnäs as a variant of Porsnäs makes sense to my ears - but if I wanted to know whether it's a mistake or a variant, I'd have to scout around a bit (won't do that for an example).

Sandar for a surname Standar makes a lot less sense. I think it's a typo.
In Folkräkningar at SVAR there is one single hit for Sandar as a surname. Looking at the image, I think that one is suppoesd to be Sander, of which there are 866 in that database. No relation to yours, of course. Just an ilustration.

Edit: first wrote Sander for both the singletonand the 866. Typo corrected.

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